Horses are as different as they get. The world counts more than 350 horse and pony breeds, ranging from strong, sturdy Clydesdale to graceful, slender Thoroughbreds, and picking a favourite is very much a personal choice. Here are my top ten horse breeds:
A lot of people dislike Arabs, but I think they dislike the way they are shown, rather than the breed itself — the “continental” style of showing has the horse very wound up, with its neck stretched up and out and its head held too high. Yet to me, the Arabian is what every pony-mad little girl draws — huge eyes, tiny ears, arched neck and long, flowing mane.
One of the few breeds that has no Arabian influence, the Andalusian — sometimes called the PRE, or Pura Raza Española — is an ancient breed that has been around for millennia. The Greek cavalry officer, Xenophon, highly praised the “gifted Iberian horses” and their role in helping Sparta defeat the Athenians around 450 BC.
Image by Yeguada Algaida via Flickr, public domain
Well, everybody loves the Connemara. It has the hardiness and sure-footed athleticism that means it can do practically any job, as well as enough beauty for the show ring. Crossed with the Thoroughbred, it makes an excellent sport horse; that dash of pony blood helps the show jumper, eventer or hunter find that sometimes-vital “fifth leg”.
Image by Final Gambit, public domain
A bit off the wall, this. I’m no beer drinker, but anyone who has seen those Budweiser adverts will be hooked on the Clydesdale too. Of course, it’s all training and camera work, but I’m convinced those marvellous horses do have a sense of humour.
I love all the UK’s native pony breeds but there’s something about the Dales that really appeals to me. Aficionados claim there’s nothing that this breed cannot do and the more I see of it, the more I like it. And someone told me of the Dales: “They have a typical native brain. They’re never nasty, but they think themselves hilarious.”
It is known as the “Black Pearl of the Netherlands”, and no wonder. The coal-black Friesian was originally a warhorse, but has been refined over the years, with Arabian and Spanish blood adding beauty and noble bearing. It makes a spectacular carriage horse, but is athletic enough for many equestrian sports.
Think “draught” and the image of a lumbering “cold-blooded” heavy horse may come to mind. But the Irish version is far from that mental picture. Some top show horses, including the multi-garlanded maxi cob Hallmark IX and heavyweight hunter Loughkeen Dancing Lord, are full Irish Draught. It also makes an excellent sport horse when crossed with Thoroughbred, but this success could be the agent of its downfall, as the gene pool of pure ID is ever diminishing.
I am lucky enough to have seen the “dancing white horses” in the baroque splendour of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna and have never forgotten it. They live up to their billing.
I’m not, in general, a fan of horses of the Americas. But the Paso Fino — which means “fine step” — intrigues me. Its smooth lateral gait is said to be supremely comfortable for the rider, with little up-and-down movement in the quarters or shoulders, and is inherited, rather than taught. It is also a horse of great beauty.
All right, this is a cop out, because how do you choose between a Trakehner and a Holsteiner, an Oldenburg or a Hanoverian? The warmblood is the success story of our times and can be seen in every arena. I wonder what the next chapter will be…
What is your favourite breed? would you have picked a different selection? Let us know in the comments (please note that comments are moderated and don’t appear immediately after posting).